As Belize prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary of Independence and 213th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, the National Flag, which carries our Coat of Arms, and its variants are making an appearance on our public streets, flown from flagpoles and draped over homes and schools and office buildings, and even painted and tattooed on human faces.

But Amandala has received numerous reports of flags displayed in certain areas which do not conform to the standards set for the National Flag, particularly for the Coat of Arms as displayed in its center.

We have sought to find out, in doing the research for this story, whether there is a specific design of the Flag, whether all flags designed must conform to specific criteria, and whether there is any enforcement by authorities for violations.

The Belize Constitution merely states in Section 122 that the National Symbols, which we are told includes the flag, are those “prescribed by the National Assembly.” From a review of the Laws of Belize Revised Edition 2000-03, we could not find any specific references to the National Flag, or even to the Symbols themselves (traditionally listed as the black orchid flower, the keel-billed toucan, the Baird’s tapir, the mahogany tree and the National Anthem — “Land of the Free”).

Declarations of the symbols were first proclaimed two days after Independence in 1981.

Clerk of the National Assembly, Eddie Webster, told Amandala when we spoke with him last week that he would have to check on the specific criteria for the design of the flag, because the person who normally handles production of flags for them now works at the Integrity Commission. He has yet to get back to us as of this writing.

But he readily opined that it would be difficult for authorities to enforce penalties for erroneously designed flags, as there are no laws or regulations, to his knowledge, that apply, as in the United States, for instance, where there is a specific section of the United States Code, Title 4, that applies (though even that is not usually enforced.)

   Anyone, he told us, can make a flag that conforms to the broad outline of what the flag is supposed to be and pass it off as the real thing.

Webster told us that he, too, has heard of flags being made “in Taiwan” and elsewhere and being sold in Belize, but said that it would take “a citizen’s effort” to initiate and lead prosecution for such an offense, no matter how disrespectful the violation is to Belize as a nation.

Last year, Amandala reported that a National Symbols Committee chaired by Joe Belisle and including attorney Philip Zuniga, SC, and Hons. Frank Lizama, Philip Goldson and Rt. Hon. Sir Manuel Esquivel (all of whom would turn out to be parliamentarians, and in the case of Esquivel, a Prime Minister) were among those who had drafted the outline of the National Flag, which according to reports, had its two red borders added at the last minute.

We also reported that despite the apparent lack of standards for design of the flag, and particularly the Coat of Arms, the issue appears not to be serious for most Belizeans, even parliamentarians who pose in front of any flag that looks like the National Flag.

Belize’s flag is the only one for any independent nation that carries depictions of humans on it, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Our subsequent research, done mostly on the Internet since local authorities have consistently been unavailable to answer our questions, has unearthed a subtle progression that has led to the Coat of Arms that is displayed today.

In 1907, the two woodcutters depicted in the Coat of Arms were both dark-skinned in color, and the sea on which the ship sails in the lower third of the shield was entirely blue. But these were changed in 1967 to, respectively, one dark-skinned, “native” woodcutter, and a “Creole”, lighter-skinned individual. A grassy field under the shield was added in 1981, and the mahogany tree was made larger.

Versions of the flag and Coat of Arms today, however, show the color of the men depicted on the flag varying from the authentic, original design. Some are black, some are brown, some are red, and some are even yellow. Even the tree on the flag varies in shape.

Our research indicates that two public officers, Everal Waight (a former Chief Broadcasting Officer) and Inez Sanchez (a former Chief Education Officer) jointly worked on and submitted the design that eventually became the National Flag. They also suggested a number of changes to the design of the Coat of Arms, including making one of the men brown to reflect the Latino/Hispanic population, changing the mahogany tree (which they considered to be linked to slavery) in the crest to a zericote tree, adding a machete to reflect the sugar industry and dropping the National Motto, “Sub Umbra Floreo”(“Under the shade I flourish”).

Only the first change, the color of the men on the Coat of Arms, was accepted. The men shared a $500 prize and the design is registered in the U.K. at the College of Heraldry.

The main problem is not the color of the men displayed; the main problem is that we do not know what is on the authentic version of the flag, assuming there is one and if so, where it is. If there is none, then what happened to the original Independence flag? Where is it? If we can have a flag to defend, then we can pass laws to preserve its integrity and prosecute those who clearly have no respect for us as a nation.    

(Ed. Note: The flag on the front page is the National Flag housed at George Price Center, said to be flown at Independence.)